Magic's Top 24 Players and Me (Part 1)

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
12/20/2017 11:01:00 AM
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This week I have decided to try something new. I will be writing about the top 25 players in the world, excluding myself. I am not talking about the best players of all time, or the players that have the best results over the years. I am trying to stay current, which means the only fair thing to do is use the official top 25 player rankings.

I think it's cool how Wizards tracks the top 25 players, but I will go into a little more detail talking about each player, and including one decklist that player has played from the past year or so. I will be covering each player over the course of two articles, so the first 12 players covered here will be chosen at random.

#10: Samuel Pardee

Sam isn't an old school pro per se, but has been playing on the Pro Tour scene for a few years now. He is an innovator. Sam is not someone who will simply pick up a deck because it has been putting up good results, he would rather put his own spin on an archetype, and make it his own. He is an out-of-the-box thinker, and this makes him one of the best deck builders in the game today. Despite being mostly known for his Constructed prowess, he is (in my opinion) equally strong in Limited.

He is also a guy with a very positive outlook on Magic who doesn't let match results affect his demeanor. After he loses a match he is not upset—he knows it is just part of the game. This is an attribute all players should aspire to. Rather than be upset about losing the finals of a Pro Tour, he was equally pleased to see his friend and teammate win. This was the deck he played for that tournament.

Black-Green Constrictor was one of the strongest decks in Standard up until the latest rotation. I'm looking forward to seeing if Rivals of Ixalan can Revive the straight black-green strategies.

#3: Kelvin Chew

To be honest I wasn't that familiar with Kelvin until seeing and playing against him at last year's World Championship. Singapore isn't exactly well-known as a destination spot in the Magic world, but Kelvin has put the country on the map as their national captain this year. He is still an up-and-coming player, which is scary for the rest of us. He has been consistently flying to events, and I expect his dedication to pay off; we will likely see him back at the World Championship in 2018.

Let's not forget that he was an underdog going into last year's World Championships, and he made the Top 4 of the event. This was his deck.

We saw a lot of Blue-Black Control at Worlds. Since then it has lost some popularity, but the cards in it remain the same. This is the place to be if you want to maximize the potential of The Scarab God.

#14: Corey Baumeister

Corey is not just a testing partner and fellow writer, but a close friend. Corey has been playing for quite a while now, but in the last year or so we have really seen him evolve and take his game to a new level. In years past one would drop the name Corey Baumeister, and you would say “isn't that Brad's brother?” While the answer to that question is still yes, Corey has progressed to the point where his Standard prowess rivals his brother's.

Corey is a great to hang out with outside of just playing Magic. He is always cracking jokes or talking about Team Genesis, and brings a lot of positivity to Pro Tour testing. Corey went on a streak where he made many Standard GP Top 8s in a row, and of all the decks he played this one may have been the coolest:

Of course, we won't be seeing Mono-White Eldrazi in Standard anymore, but I see many of these cards porting over to Modern and some of the Death and Taxes lists, along with of course Eldrazi Tron. Eldrazi are far from a thing of the past.

#21: Pascal Maynard

Of all the moments over the past year, my favorite was definitely when Pascal came over and gave me a hug when I won Pro Tour Ixalan. A moment like this creates a special bond between two players, and I believe since then Pascal and I have become even better friends. Pascal is someone who I knew going into Pro Tour Ixalan was thirsty for a big result. After a series of frustrating finishes, it is easy to get disheartened and not as interested in playing Magic. Then, all of a sudden, a big result can rejuvenate a player and help them elevate their game. I believe this is what happened in Pascal's case.

It would be cool to see Pascal make a push this year and attend more Grand Prix, as he is certainly good enough to play on the World Championship stage if he puts in the effort (combined with some luck, of course.) It wouldn't be fitting to showcase any deck other than his take on White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift.

#16: Lee Shi Tian

Lee is not afraid to play any archetype. We have seen him Top 8 Pro Tours with a variety of strategies, from Mardu Vehicles to Jeskai Ascendancy combo. You can see after he wins a big match how happy he gets. One signature moment came at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir when he drew the exact card he needed to win while playing for Top 8 – he got out of his chair and started running around the room. I'm sure Lee will be looking to get back to the World Championship and improve on his latest finish. Lee has accumulated five Pro Tour Top 8's, and is eligible to enter the Hall of Fame in 2018, so stay tuned to see if he makes it in!

Lee was able to Top 8 a Modern Grand Prix this year with none other than Dredge, again showing off his range.

Dredge is always going to be an important player in the Modern metagame. Similar to Affinity, it is a metagame call that is going to be a better choice the less hate running around.

#6: Owen Turtenwald

Owen has a ton of respect in the Magic community, and for good reason. When watching him play you can visibly see how crisp his plays are and how much confidence he has that every decision he is making is the correct one. Owen happens to have been my opponent in the most significant match of Magic I ever played, at Worlds in 2015. You can tell he has the drive to win, and may be the most fearsome opponent you can get paired against.

Beyond his great technical play, he does little things to enhance his game that other players would never think of. I happened to be behind him watching him play a match of Limited and he pretended to sideboard in cards that were not in his colors at all. The idea that the opponent may be looking to see if you are sideboarding is lost on many players. Watching a player like Owen play is a great way to elevate your own game.

Owen had been an advocate of Infect being the best deck in Modern up until the recent banning of Gitaxian Probe. Since then we have seen him trying his hand at Grixis Death's Shadow.

Grixis Death's Shadow is still considered by many players to be the best deck in Modern. Sometimes it is a matter of a great player playing the best deck in the format, tuning it and finding success.

Luis Salvatto

Luis Salvatto is relative newcomer to Magic, and he has done extraordinarily well in a short time. When he made the Top 8 of Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad I wasn't familiar with him before I found out we were battling in the quarterfinals. It was a very pleasant match, and you could see he was constantly learning and figuring out how to improve his game. Nowadays I often find him on Magic Online under the handle “Salvatto.” After making the Top 8 of a Pro Tour Luis hasn't stopped winning, and has been very successful at the Grand Prix level.

Luis recently finished in second place alongside his team at GP Madrid. His deck of choice? Green-White Elves!

Elves decks have been doing pretty well for a while now, though they don't always have the white splash, which gives access to powerful sideboard cards.

#24: Matt Severa

Another player that has been on a tear at the Grand Prix Level. Matt is viewed as one of the best Limited minds in the game, yet he can recently be founding winning Standard Grand Prixs, as in multiple! He took down two playing Mardu Vehicles, a Team Limited GP and probably another tournament I'm forgetting about. The guy is a shark. It is just a matter of time before we see Matt have a breakout performance at a Pro Tour. He plays in the Madison area, and we know just how strong a player pool they have there.

Clearly Mardu Vehicles has changed a bit since the recent rotation, so I expect to see Matt win another Grand Prix with the version that includes Hazoret the Fervent!

#5: Shota Yasooka

If we had to call one player a robot when they play Magic, wouldn't it have to be Shota? He plays flawlessly, while doing so extremely quickly. I believe I have played Shota five times or so, most of the time in very important matches, and lost every time. Just look at his eyes when he's playing! He's so calm, as if he knows he can't be beaten. It is scary to think how little emotion he shows, even after winning the Pro Tour at the beginning of last season. Shota is also considered a control specialist, usually with decks he's brewed himself.

This was the deck he took to Worlds this past year.

To be honest, this is one of those times where I would say “don't try this at home.” Shota can pilot this deck flawlessly, though.

#8: William Jensen

William “Huey” Jensen has been playing Magic at a high level for a very long time. He is a role model and mentor for many players, and someone who I personally look up to and respect. He recently won the most prestigious event in the game, the World Championship, along with the largest single prize given to any single player. Not only did he win the tournament, but he was humble about doing so, attributing it to getting lucky, when clearly there was much more to his win than that. It is hard not to root for someone like Huey.

As a member of the most feared threesome in the game (the Peach Garden Oath, along with Owen Turtenwald and Reid Duke), he has been crushing Team Grand Prix over the past few years. Huey has continued to be a Platinum pro year in and year out despite not being a full-time pro; he has started to move into event coverage. Here is where we once again see the best Standard deck in the format rear its head.

This deck is just great. Personally, I'm hoping Rivals of Ixalan will shake things up, otherwise Temur Energy will continue to be a dominant force.

#15: Javier Dominguez

We have seen a number of native Spanish speakers doing well lately, perhaps knowing a second language is an advantage! Remember you are free to communicate however you choose in team events. Javier hasn't been on the pro scene for that long, yet he just finished in second place at the World Championship! While he may not have played the finals as well as he would have liked, you can see he's happy to get any chance he can to improve his game. His deck of choice? None other than Ramunap Red.

This is one of the top two decks in Standard right now, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. The only way that could change is if a cheap answer to Hazoret the Fervent were printed – how about Runed Halo?

#23: Christian Calcano

Calcano has been on the pro scene for a while now, grinding away. He had one heartbreaking season where he came up one point short of getting to Platinum, but he was able to bounce back. Last year he finally broke through to a Pro Tour Top 8, and I was very happy for him. He is a fun guy to play against, and will go around giving friends high fives and fist bumps for doing well, even after he may have not had a great tournament himself. Calcano truly cares about the community.

Calcano is known for some crazy Limited strategies, as I wasn't expecting to face against his turbo aggressive Swashbuckling deck at the World Championship. He can a strategy that even the top pros hadn't tried out, and use that to his advantage. While Calcano will play any deck, he is a control player at heart. We have seen him playing Faeries before, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him pick it back up again sometime.

With Control decks creeping up in popularity, Faeries seems to be well-positioned. Bitterblossom is essentially impossible to answer once it enters the battlefield. This deck has the traditional mix of card draw, countermagic, removal and discard to back it up.

Thanks for reading,
Seth Manfield

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